Two popular energy drink ingredients not of safety concern: EFSA

Posted by Editorial on 13th February 2009

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that exposure to taurine and d-glucuronolactone through regular consumption of energy drinks was not of safety concern. The research was conducted in response to a request from the European Commission, EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS).

The evaluation follows a risk assessment on these two substances carried out by the EU’s former Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) in 2003. The ANS Panel considered that data which had recently been made available were sufficient to remove outstanding concerns raised by the SCF opinion with regard to possible harmful effects of taurine on the brain and d-glucuronolactone on the kidneys. The Panel also concluded that since exposure was based on data reported by the SCF in 2003, current exposure data on the consumption of energy drinks, in particular of adolescents and young adults, may need to be collected.

“This opinion evaluated the safety of these two ingredients as constituents of energy drinks, rather than energy drinks themselves which contain different combinations of a number of different substances,” John Christian Larsen, the Chair of the ANS Panel, said. “Looking at the available consumption figures and taking into account new toxicological data, the Panel considered that specific questions previously raised on the safety of these ingredients by the EU’s former Scientific Committee on Food have been resolved.”

Taurine and d-glucuronolactone occur as natural ingredients in food, and are normal human metabolites. However, they are also used at much higher levels in energy drinks. The new data confirmed a No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) of 1,000mg per kilogram of bodyweight per day for both substances.

The Panel concluded that a sufficient margin of safety exists for mean and high-level regular consumers of energy drinks, drinking on average 125ml (0.5 cans) and 350ml (1.4 cans) per person per day respectively; hence, exposure to taurine and d-glucuronolactone at these levels is not a safety concern [3] .

In the opinion, the Panel noted reports of acute health problems, including fatalities, in young people consuming energy drinks either in very high amounts (e.g. a reported case of someone drinking 1,420ml), in combination with physical exercise or more frequently together with alcohol. The panel also noted the SCF conclusion that the co-consumption of alcohol and/or drugs reported in most of these cases makes the interpretation of the reported cases particularly difficult. With regard to some recent reports, the Panel considered it possible that the health problems mentioned could be due to the well-known side effects of high caffeine intake, while the assumption of a causal relationship with taurine intake is lacking scientific evidence.

Both ingredients are seen in most energy drinks, including the three most popular in Australia – V, Mother and Red Bull. They are used due to studies linking them with reducing fatigue.

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